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Falmouth council delays town center ballot question

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Falmouth council delays town center ballot question

FALMOUTH — A proposed bond referendum to fund a new town center at the Lunt and Plummer-Motz schools has been postponed and will not appear on the November ballot.

The Town Council reached a consensus in a special meeting Tuesday to kill the question that, until this week, has moved steadily toward a Nov. 2 referendum.

Instead, councilors said they will explore options including opening the project up for bids from private developers who might be interested in a partnership with the town.

Council Chairman Tony Payne said the project will appear on the June 2011 ballot.

While Payne and three other councilors voted in favor of sending the measure to voters at the last council meeting on Aug. 23, Tuesday's consensus came after members of the Falmouth Memorial Library board of trustees again expressed concern that the plan, which would require borrowing between $2 million and $4 million, is not fiscally prudent and asked for more time.

"We still think (moving to Lunt) is a viable option," Trustee Sean Joyce said, adding that the board would rather see the project move forward without town borrowing.

Councilor Bonny Rodden, who was away during the council discussion of the project on Aug. 23, said she feel it is important to keep moving forward, but that the council should do so working closely with the library board.

"It's not fair to put something on the ballot before anything is concrete," Rodden said. "I'm not ready, at this point, to rule out other options."

Councilor Fred Chase said he is relieved the project is no longer on the "fast track."

There was brief discussion of an April study done of the library building that showed expansion possibilities of up to 4,000 square feet on its existing site at 5 Lunt Road. Some Councilors said they had not seen the study and would want to review it before moving ahead. 

The study was presented while some councilors were present, although the document, produced for the private library board, has not previously been made available to the public.

Councilor Will Armitage said he would like to see the project go out to bid to see what the private sector offers. 

"You're covering all your bases by at least starting the (request for proposal) process," he said, adding that the council would not have to accept any proposals it did not think were a good deal for the town.

The council obtained a verbal agreement from the library trustees in attendance that they would together in two weeks to go over the studies and discuss a possible memo of understanding between the town and the library that is currently being drafted. 

Rodden suggested the council and library trustees come to a consensus about how they would be moving forward with the project in six to eight weeks.

"I would like us to have a tour of the library, a public meeting, to go over the reports and the different ideas that have been presented," Rodden said. "Hopefully then we'll reach a place where we're signing a memo of understanding."

Councilor Teresa Pierce, who was the liaison to the Community Facilities Planning Committee that first drafted the plan, said she is disappointed the committee's initial plan is not going to voters.

"I wish we'd given the public the option to weigh in on this," Pierce said.

Members of Falmouth Citizens for Sound Choices, which organized a petition drive and collected nearly 400 signatures asking the council to hold off on the ballot question, were in the audience when the consensus was reached.

"What I want to know is, where does the public fit into this? This sounds like it did on Aug. 23, like a discussion between the town and the library," said Lisa Preney, who organized the petition with former Councilor Dave Libby and Payne, the current council chairman.

After the meeting, library trustees indicated that, while two weeks was not much time, they would be ready to continue the discussion with the council.

"Getting people to understand, getting the council on the same page, has been very painful for us," library President Chantal Walker said. "We try to be as unpolitical as possible."

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net